I bought an apartment at the end of 2017 and I know that management fees are due. I have an approximate idea of the sum, but I never received an invoice. I reminded the only contact I have about it every two to three months, but nothing happened. How can I avoid facing a huge bill once they realise I haven’t paid anything since buying? I do want to pay, but I need some sort of invoice.
You are right to be concerned on this as, like most property owners, you do not wish to fall into arrears on service charges which, as you note, could be mounting up. While there is a small cohort of owners who tend not to pay their annual service charges on time, in most well-managed developments the norm is that over 90 per cent of owners pay up in full each year.
Indeed, not doing so is effectively a kind of anti-social behaviour as it means your neighbours in the development subsidise services for you, including weekly refuse collections, common area electricity, grounds maintenance and so on. All of these services must be paid for as they are used which is why it is crucial for all owners’ management companies (OMCs) to collect service charges in a timely way and for all owners to pay in a timely way.
You are also correct that you are entitled to a statement or invoice from the OMC showing clearly the service charges owing in relation to your property and the time periods to which these refer. Indeed, if you have any queries as regards these charges, you should also be able to receive an explanation as to the basis for these charges. You will also be entitled to a receipt (if you want one) once you have paid the charges. These documents will assist you in ensuring your taxation and other affairs are in order.
You don’t say if you purchased a new or second-hand apartment. Often with new apartments, one year of service charges is paid on close of sale so it may be that you had paid a certain amount of charges in advance but were not aware of this. If so, the solicitor who acted for you in purchasing the apartment will be able to clarify this. If you purchased a second-hand apartment, then normally you would owe service charges from the date that you purchased the apartment.
One possibility is that the OMC was not properly informed of the sale going through and has not updated its records. Normally the solicitor for the person selling the apartment should inform the OMC that the apartment sale has closed and supply details of the new owner. However, this does not always happen so your service charge statements may be going to an incorrect address. (It also sounds as though you have not had other communication from the OMC, eg an invitation to the 2018 agm.) It would be surprising, however, for the OMC to have not received a payment for well over a year in relation to a property and to not have followed up on this.
You don’t say if the OMC employs a managing agent to manage its affairs on a day-to-day basis. If it does, then service charge payments should be followed up in a systematic way.
I would suggest that you make one further attempt to contact the OMC or its agent. You might see if you can find house rules posted in the development (they are normally in entrance foyers) as these should include contact details for the managing agent. You could also ask owners of neighbouring apartments as to how they contact the OMC or even ask contractors on site, eg cleaners or groundsmen to whom they report.
You should then check with the OMC or its agent that they have your full contact details in relation to your property. You should also ask them to provide you with an up-to-date statement in relation to the service charges on your account and the payment options in relation to these charges.
If this does not work, you should ask your solicitor to contact the OMC formally, perhaps via registered post. They will have the name of the OMC from the purchasing process and will be able to find the formal registered address of the company from the Companies Registration Office. The solicitor should provide the details of your case and ask for an up-to-date statement of account for your property to be supplied to you promptly.
As a final point, I would note that it is important that OMCs set budgets in the correct manner (as laid down by the Multi-Unit Developments Act) and then bill out these budgets correctly. This ensures that they will be able to go to the courts in relation to the collection of charges if some owners do not pay them. Correct budgeting and billing processes are core tasks of a good owners’ management company.
Finbar McDonnell is a chartered property manager and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland. scsi.ie